Tuesday, June 22, 2010

AG Targets Rancid E-Claire

The Wall Street Journal is reporting on the apparent delay in the now 11 month investigation into the illegal lobbying activity of the Claire Shulman-led local development corporation that lobbied illegally on behalf of development at Willets Point: “Queens property owners battling Mayor Michael Bloomberg's effort to redevelop the area near Citi Field are accusing Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of dragging his feet in a yearlong investigation into whether a city-funded corporation broke state law by lobbying for the plan… In a June 17 letter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the Willets Point property owners demanded Mr. Cuomo, who is running for governor, respond to their allegation that the corporation, led by former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, conducted an extensive lobbying effort in violation of state law. Ms. Shulman denied any wrongdoing in an interview.”

Huh? State law is pretty clear in our view-and by the sheer act of registering as a lobbyist, the Queens Eclaire convicted herself: “Ms. Shulman's corporation received hundreds of thousands of dollars in both public and private money to build support for Mr. Bloomberg's plan. State law prohibits local development corporations, such as the Ms. Shulman's, from attempting to "influence legislation by propaganda or otherwise.” “We did everything in good faith and we continue to believe that," Ms. Shulman said. "It's a good project," she added, referring to the mayor's plans for the area. Ms. Shulman admitted she and her group engaged in lobbying. "Did we go to speak to members of the City Council? Yes, we did," she said. "We hired lobbyists."

Case closed? Not according to Shulman’s attorney who has a rather unique view of the state prohibition: “Bob Bishop, an attorney for Ms. Shulman's corporation, said that he believes state law prohibits lobbying of the Legislature. Since Ms. Shulman lobbied the City Council, he said, "the activity is not illegal." "We are waiting for guidance from the attorney general," he said.”

Hah! What would we do without lawyers? The fact of the matter is that the state’s public integrity commission admits to no distinction between political lobbying at the state or local levels-and a lobbyist-or any group attempting to “influence legislation by propaganda or otherwise”-must register with the commission when lobbying on behalf of a local measure.

So Lawyer Bob is trying to be cute; and is looking to ignorance or confusion as an out for Claire’s illegal lobbying operation-one for which she was fined heavily: “Last year, the City Clerk imposed a $59,090 fine against the corporation because Ms. Shulman failed to register as a lobbyist. At the time, it was the largest fine issued by the City Clerk for lobbying activity.”

The reason for the delay may lie more with foot-dragging on the mayor’s part-a fact that the NY Times’ Jim Dwyer pointed out last year. The WSJ seems to confirm Dwyer’s suspicions: “The attorney general's office has complained about the speed with which the city has responded to requests for information. The final batch of requested documents from the city arrived at Mr. Cuomo's office last week, a person familiar with the probe said. And Mr. Cuomo's office still needs to interview additional witnesses, the person said.”

The city in our view, is only postponing the inevitable. And the AG should make a significant example of the illegal tactics of EDC. There’s no excuse for taking aim at the properties of hundreds of small local businesses-and the effort becomes even more unseemly when the city tries to use illegal subterfuge in the process. The Shulman LDC should be disbanded-along with its counterpart in Coney Island-and the AG should additionally lay down strict parameters for the parent EDC in order to prevent the illegal lobbying of this quasi-governmental small business killer.